By Anthony Awunor

Those who think that weaving of Ubulu-Uku traditional attire called “akwa ocha” is an archaic thing should begin to have a rethink.

Mrs Mary Mordi (Mama Uche) has proven that by modernising and putting life into this fashion trade. She started weaving in 1964 after she passed out from the then modern school. Since her mother was a weaver too, Mrs Mary after her schooling took time to learn from her mum within a short period of time. She started learning with a great zeal, practicing gradually and finally mastered the art of weaving.

Mrs Mary Mordi

She did not dabble into weaving at all; people say she has passion naturally for that profession since when she was a very young girl. She therefore, found it very easy to learn when she started. With that strong passion, Mrs Mordi used to weave even when she was working at Catholic Maternity. As a full time nursery teacher, this wonderful woman continued to weave on part-time bases after her hard day’s job.

Today, her efforts are paying off and the Ubulu woman seems to be smiling to the bank regularly. Though, the cost price of weaving thread (olulu) has gone up from a mere N5 in 1981 to a whopping sum of N5, 000 as at today. Despite, this increment, this Abuedo born woman, though married to Mordi royal family in Ilo Akwu quarters still make out something as two piece of this traditional attire goes for up to N32,000 to N35,000.

That is not the main deal. The weaver was quoted as saying that she rakes in money when she has contracts to weave for a group of people, say 20 to 30 people. She said, that is where the real money is as more jobs rake in better profits.

Mrs Mordi who said it takes her at least a weak to finish one set of “akwa ocha” confirmed that she had made up to N150,000 in one swoop during one of such mouth watering contracts.

By and large, this woman has many things to show for her hard work and determination in this weaving business. For instance, she was able to train all her 8 children up to the university level even as a widow. She was also instrumental to the establishment of a local weaving industry at Nwanoli Primary School as part of Better Life Programme proposed by the then military regime of IBB and Abacha.

Mrs Mary Mordi has also made history of clothing some important personalities in the country among who were Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Senator Jim Nwobodo, Sunny Odogwu and many others. This woman with golden fingers has a way of inscribing the Nigeria Coat of Arms right inside the white elegant cloth. She does it without much ado and it take her less than one hour.

While she was weaving the cloths for IBB and co, nature wanted to play a prank on her. She was pregnant and few days to finish that ever important job of designing a dress for the military Head of States and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, child labour came calling. But in her wisdom, she obeyed nature and allowed her younger sister to tidy up the presidential job. At the end, she was able to seal that deal.

At a point this woman went international and the weaving occupation has taken her to several parts of the country and beyond. Her designs have been exhibited in many fashion exhibitions in Benin, Lagos, Kaduna and in far-away Nairobi in Kenya where the weaver won an accolade from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Her designed “akwa ocha” was carried all over the world for not less than three months after which she was given that honour.

Back home, Mrs Mordi made Asaba Diocese of the Catholic church proud when her designed “akwa ocha” which was taken to Chicago in USA won a brand new Toyota bus for the church organisation.

Mrs Mordi is living a happy life by all standard;  the magnificient and gigantic mansion where she lives at Ubulu-Uku, no doubt was put together by the proceeds garnered from weaving of “akwa ocha”. What else?

But this woman has regret. Out of all the beautiful girls she brought to this world, none has interest in weaving. She lamented that it was only once, two among her girls managed to weave one piece. She hinted that the two babes did the weaving job very well but only rushed to sell them and quickly utilised the money to do more important things. Since that day, Mrs mordi said none of them have laid hand on “apilipa”, “mkpokor”, “afia”, “ukoti” or even “olulu”. They have gone to the universities, studied what they felt are better courses, abandoning weaving. That seems to be what Madam Mary Mordi didn’t like so much about her occupation.

This Ubulu-Uku woman said weaving is very lucrative but comes with a whole lot of challenges. Body pain is one of them and the other is the  rising cost of purchasing olulu.

She however, advised young girls to go into weaving of “akwa ocha”, saying that it can equally help any determined woman to create and earn a good source of living.


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